My friend was super excited for me when I told her I was pregnant. (This was twenty-five years ago — I don’t mean to shock you, since I’m a Nana now!)
“Alicia,” I’ll call her, had just become familiar with some popular teaching on Christian parenting. She knew I already had three children, but she figured this surefire system would be my shot at really nailing this parenting thing.
(Hmm… Clearly, my parenting wasn’t perfect. Otherwise, why would Alicia be so excited for me to take a fresh run at it?)
It’s true that there are principles and promises in God’s word which give us direction for all of life, including how to raise our children to know and love God.
While raising our three boys, we read lots of parenting books, mostly Christian. I devoured books by Dr. James Dobson, Kevin Leman and many others. Their collective wisdom did me great good, and if you are raising children, I highly recommend that you read Bible-based parenting books on a regular basis.
As in, when you are done with one book, start another, and if you are the reader and not your spouse, then read and underline and share. Seriously.
Having said that, If there’s one thing I’ve learned through the ups and downs and bumps and bruises of raising children, it’s that there’s no surefire method which can guarantee a blissful, shiny bright, perfect family.
Your daily, real-life, raw experience of raising Jesus-followers is not a cookie-cutter thing. Nobody has all the answers. Nobody can offer you a formula that magically produces children whose greatest joy in life is to constantly obey you.
By this time, you’re like, Dang it! I want that formula!
I understand. I wanted a formula, too. But here’s the thing you must keep uppermost in your mind about parenting: you are a sinner, raising sinners.
This means that life will be messy. Formulas won’t work. You will hurt your children, even though it’s the last thing you want to do. They will drive you crazy with their stubborn, arrogant, ignorant, childish ways.
I don’t mean to be mean … this is simply the nature of a sinner, whether adult or child. The remedy isn’t a method or a system, although these have their place.
The remedy is the gospel.
Gospel-centered parenting means you recognize your inability to be the parent (and the person) you want to be. You realize your constant need for God’s grace as you shape your children’s characters.
You ask for God’s forgiveness when you sin against your child. You ask for your child’s forgiveness, too. And you teach your child to do the same when they sin.
In other words, you are always cognizant that, while you parent your children, God is parenting you. It all rests on your relationship with him.
That takes a weight off, right? This is not about getting it right. It’s about knowing where to go when you get it wrong.
As I’ve said in my seminar, it’s not about fixing your parenting; it’s about fixing your eyes on Jesus as you parent.
(For a great read on this, check out Parenting: 14 Gospel Principles That Can Radically Change Your Family by Paul David Tripp.)
When Alicia got married and had a baby, she was confident that the parenting system she had read about would give her all the answers she needed.
As time went on, it became clear that her daughter had certain learning disabilities which presented a challenge. The formula simply didn’t work with her.
As to the baby I was carrying back in the day –the one Alicia thought I’d finally parent well — she did turn out perfect. That’s only because I lost Tabitha to a late miscarriage, and she was raised by Jesus in heaven.
Had she been born and raised by me, she would have been perfectly imperfect, just like the rest of our family.
Are you an imperfect parent? Welcome to the human race –and thank God for the gospel.